Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned former opposition leader Sam Rainsy to appear for questioning over allegations that he insulted King Norodom Sihamoni when he claimed that he penned an election letter under duress.
The summons come after Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana ordered the municipal court to take legal measures against Mr Rainsy, who earlier this month claimed that a letter issued by the King urging people to vote in the upcoming national election was fake or made under duress.
According to a warrant issued on Tuesday and signed by deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok, the court has ordered Mr Rainsy, who lives in exile, to appear for questioning on July 12.
King Norodom Sihamoni earlier this month publicly released a letter that he signed on May 18, in which he urged the public to cast votes in the national election.
“The election on Sunday July 29 will be free, fair, just, equal and a secret election in accordance with multi-party democracy,” the King said. “Please don’t be concerned about pressure, intimidation or threats by someone or any political party.”
After Mr Rainsy claimed the letter was a farce, the Ministry of Royal Palace issued a statement confirming its authenticity and Prime Minister Hun Sen blasted Mr Rainsy during a speech for insulting the King.
“Does he dare to oppose the King’s letter? If he does, he betrays the King,” Mr Hun Sen said. “It is clear that he wants to eliminate the constitutional monarchy and depose the throne.”
“It is also clear that he opposes the King,” he added.
Mr Vong Vathana then ordered the court to take action using a recently passed law that criminalises insulting the King. Under the law, any person found guilty of insulting the King faces one to five years in jail with a hefty fine of up to $12,500.
Mr Rainsy, who has not been in Cambodia since 2015 when he fled to escape court cases, responded to the summons yesterday via Facebook, refusing to back down from his claim.
“We must not believe those sold-out courtesans in the Royal Palace who are telling us lies,” he said.
Mr Rainsy is also currently facing three other court cases, including demoralisation of the army, inciting military personnel to disobey orders, and treason charges.
The treason charges came after video leaked of Mr Rainsy agreeing to cede four north-eastern provinces to Vietnam’s Montagnards if he won the 2013 election.
Lawyer Sam Sokong, who has previously defended other cases for Mr Rainsy, said he has not received any request from him to handle the cases.
“Since the old cases finished, I have not received any request to defend him,” he said.
Since the law criminalizing insulting the King passed in February, at least three people have been charged with insulting the King through Facebook messages.
Most recently, Phnom Penh Municipal Court this week charged a chicken vendor for insulting and threatening to kill King Norodom Sihamoni on Facebook.